Women’s solo travel: keeping safe on the road

The headline on NBCnews.com reads Women’s solo travel under scrutiny after vacationer’s killing in Turkey. In the wake of Sarai Sierra’s death in Turkey, there have been a lot of comments online about women traveling alone from kudos to statements like, “You can’t meet up with strange men your family doesn’t know when traveling overseas and expect to be safe 100 percent of the time.” Huh? A lot of violence against women takes place at home at the hands of a family member or friend. The days of women barefoot, pregnant and chained to the bed are long over. Women are on the move. Get used to it

Should women give up solo travel? Women solo travel bloggers uniformly agree that travelling alone is great, but they suggest being mindful and taking safety precautions. They are savvy women aware of the dangers that being a woman in this world brings and they plan accordingly. This is their lifestyle and they’re going to keep living it. The truth is, women who are alone, whether home or abroad, need to take safety precautions, especially at night.

solo travel

Evelyn Hannon of Journeywoman sailed around the world at Semester at Sea photo/Evelyn Hannon

WeGoSolo is a campaign launched this week by women solo travel bloggers and others that support them. The objective is to raise awareness of safety for women traveling alone. Solo traveler and blogger, Mariellen Ward of BreatheDreamGo writes about this new movement she catalyzed on a travel blogger Facebook group yesterday. Ward, who was in India when the young woman was ganged raped on a Delhi bus, felt she’d had enough. The #WeGoSolo Twitter hashtag and a blog campaign was born. Her post Ode to the lady traveller: Why we need the #WeGoSolo movement speaks of the blame the victim mentality and points out that the real question, “Why are men harming women?” She also links to relevant safety posts from women on the road. Ward says,” Women are brought up to be cautious and constantly think about their safety. Don’t walk in dark alleys, take a taxi home at night, etc. It’s no different with travelling. To be safe, you should research the place you are visiting and read blogs from other women travellers who have been there.”

I’ve always believed that common sense and our five senses are our best safety tools no matter where we are. If you’re a women alone (or anyone, really) don’t put yourself in dangerous situations. It’s important to be aware of your surroundings at all times. It always amazes me how many people go through the world talking on their cell phones or listening to their iPods. It’s dangerous.

solo travel

Adventurous Kate living like a Bedouin in Wadi Rum, Jordan, photo/courtesy Adventurous Kate

It isn’t just traveling women who need to be vigilant. It’s all women. Violence against women is condoned by societies around the world. There was a story on the local news last night. The University of New Mexico has a ride program for women students. Apparently, the campus isn’t safe for women walking alone at night. Sadly, women need to be vigilant when alone almost anywhere in the world. Is it right? No.  Is it the reality? Yes.  Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues is behind a world-wide movement, One Billion Rising. They’re asking people all over the world to make a statement against violence against women on V-Day, February 14th. Their motto: Strike, Dance, Rise!

There are probably as many reasons that women travel solo as there are solo women travelers. Most of them love it, are intrepid and thrive.  Most women travele bloggers agree that you should research the places you’re going to in advance to learn a bit about their culture and customs. In some countries, eye contact is considered to be provocative; in others a certain way of dressing may be misinterpreted. Learn what you need to and travel safely. We’ve interviewed a number of them for our Meet the Travel Bloggers series and I’m always awed by their thirst for adventure and intrepid approach to travel. I never thought to ask them how they keep safe on the road. That question will be added to future interviews.  I checked in with a few of them today and got some great comments.

solo travel

Pamela MacNaughtan at the Charles Bridge in Prague, photo/Spunky Girl Monologues

Evelyn Hannon is the Queen of Solo Women Travelers. She’s been successfully blogging at Journeywoman since the last milenium. Hannon has a wealth of safety and other tips for women traveling on their own. Her #WeGoSolo posts received 18,000 page views in one day. When the writer of the NBC article wanted a comment from a solo woman traveler, she’s one of two women quoted. She gave me a comment to share with readers.  “As much as I want to see all women having a wonderful solo travel experience, as a journalist my first responsibility is to see that they leave home with a solid set of safety travel skills that they can call on when necessary. That has been Journeywoman’s mandate since 1994. To that end I’ve devoted one full section of our online travel encyclopedia to Be Brave Go Solo. In it are 30 articles designed to do the trick.”

Adventurous Kate, aka Kate McCulley posted The Truth About Solo Female Travel and Safety this week. She makes some good points and she’s a pro. She writes, “Safety is researching your destination in advance and learning what actions to take and what regions to avoid. Safety is only accepting drinks from bartenders and not letting them out of your sight. Safety is taking cabs at night when necessary.  Safety is hiding secret stashes of money in different places. Safety is, most importantly, listening to your intuition and getting away from situations that feel potentially dangerous.”

solo travel

Theodora Sutcliffe and son Zach trekking Tiger Leaping Gorge in China, photo/courtesy Theodora Sutcliffe

Pamela MacNaughtan, of Spunky Girl Monologues, has this advice, “When I’m travelling I keep my mind open. It allows me to see my surroundings and judge which path is the best choice. An open mind opens doors to unique experiences, and alerts me to situations I should avoid.”

Theodora Sutcliffe of Escape Artiste isn’t quite a solo traveler. She travels with her adolescent son. But, as a single mother on the road, she has many of the same issues solo women face with an added one: she had to keep her son safe. The intrepid blogger emailed in reply to our question about safety: “The key message I’d like to get across is: Of course it’s important that anyone in a place they do not know, male or female, should be aware of risk. But most violence against women occurs in the home, at home, in the home country, at the hands of men that women know and trust. We shouldn’t panic about travel, and we shouldn’t panic about stranger danger.”

Freelance travel writer and blogger, Jeanine Barone of J The Travel Authority, shared some great advice for women travelers. Dress so you don’t attract any unwanted attention, loose clothing rather than form fitting. Carry a cover-up. like a pashmina, in case you need it. Never leave a drink untended,someone could drug it. Avoid ground floor hotel rooms and look around before putting your key in the lock. Check elevators before you get into them. “Most of all,” she writes, “I trust my instincts.”

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Zoe Dawes at Gerainger Fjord, Norway, photo/courtesy Quirky Traveller

British travel Blogger, Zoë Dawes, travels solo a lot and lived in Greece for four years. She suggests checking an area out for safety issues such as pick pockets and to avoid areas that look dodgy. She recommends trusting your intuition. “Often,” she writes, “you can immediately sense if an area is unsafe or downright dangerous.” This Quirky Traveller says, an “open, friendly smile works well!”

If you are a solo traveler by nature, read all the travel safety tips and use common sense. While nobody can guarantee your safety, you’ll have some useful tools for the road (and at home). Being careful doesn’t mean being fearful. Get out there and conquer the world.

If you have any strategies for staying safe traveling solo, we’d love to hear them.

 

13 Responses to “Women’s solo travel: keeping safe on the road”

  1. Janet Heaton @Jkheaton
    February 8, 2013 at 12:07 am #

    I travel alone the majority of the time when I go out on my work cruises. As I am not working while in port, this is my time to go out and explore. I like to come and go as I please, therefore, not joining in on the “group” tours most of the time. Common sense is key and I talk to a lot of the crew about the ports. I never get in a cab alone, you can use the shared cabs in most Caribbean islands. Don’t wear flashy jewelry and yes, you should wear the clothing you prefer but not too revealing. Don’t weigh yourself down with too much baggage or huge purses. Know where your money or credit card is, don’t be fumbling through your bag or wallet. I never have ear plugs for music in my ears while walking around, I want to hear my new glorious surroundings! I do keep my cell close for any emergencies, for myself or at home. I also take note of any local police or security and know what their uniforms look like if needed. (SO many various uniforms in many ports) You can keep a phone number of the local police but I just keep a contact on me from the ship. (I do have an international data & phone package that I am luckily grandfathered into from 4 years ago) There are a few ports that have a high crime rate and sadly, even girls traveling in groups have had issues. In those ports, I DO go out with the crew (men and women) and only during the day and we enjoy the ship at night but most times we are sailing again and working until the next port. And never leave your drink anywhere! Be friendly but aware of your surroundings and say no when you need to, a firm but polite “no thank you” works well for me. I always feel connected to others even when alone through all the various social media sites and people know that I am safe! hahaha Pack your common sense, your sense of adventure and go have fun! I’m not ever going to let it stop me 🙂 Safe and happy travels! #WeGoSolo

    • Billie Frank
      February 8, 2013 at 8:16 am #

      Thanks for this comprehensive comment. Some great common sense suggestions for people cruising and travelers all over- not just women. Great suggesting for people on cruises or anywhere to research to know where the high crime areas are at their destinations. Safe travels!

  2. Jeanine Barone
    February 8, 2013 at 9:13 am #

    This is a great set of tips. Any woman who intends to travel alone should make note of these tips and use them. And they shouldn’t think that a more laissez-faire attitude where you throw caution to the wind when traveling assures a more fun experience. It can be quite the opposite.

    • Billie Frank
      February 8, 2013 at 10:53 am #

      I agree about the caution to the wind. Caution is the key word for successful travel whether alone of with others. You can be aware and still have a great experience!

  3. Zoë Dawes
    February 8, 2013 at 1:53 pm #

    Really good to see these tips and well done for sharing this article Billie & Steve. It’s always good to remember however open-minded and friendly we are, not everyone is quite the same and a bit of awareness can make all the difference to the pleasure of the journey …
    Zoë Dawes recently posted..The intriguing Winchester Mystery HouseMy Profile

  4. SineadF
    February 9, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    It makes me SOOOOO mad to see how one woman traveling alone can be twisted so as to deter others from doing so.
    I solo travel a lot and meet up with many guy & girl travelers along the way too – and have never had any real issues (other than the usual stuff I get at home.) I promise u, solo travel is fine with all the usual precautions.

    • Billie Frank
      February 9, 2013 at 7:31 am #

      By twisted, do you mean by the media? Sensation sells newspapers and gets clicks on the Internet. Sad but true. Safe travels!

  5. Maia Duerr/Liberated Life Project
    February 9, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    Great post — thank you for writing on this topic, Billie! And for mention One Billion Rising… the more we women look out for each other and stand up for each other, the safer everyone will be.

    • Billie Frank
      February 9, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

      I agree. I was so upset to see the reactions to solo women travelers that surfaced this week. I’m not a fan of blaming the victim and wanted to support women wherever they are. As a travel blogger, I know many solo travelers, both men and women. I want them all to be safe as they explore the world and I want people to be safe at home.

  6. April
    June 17, 2014 at 10:01 am #

    The negative situations where women go through especially the abuse that is happening these days are really serious and that it should stop. But I admire women who are still strong and living the life they deserve like exploring the world on their own in travelling. I hope to get that strength and enjoy the life of a woman in exploring the world. Thanks for sharing this post!

    • Billie Frank
      August 4, 2014 at 7:55 am #

      Everyone needs to travel with their own comfort zones. I think it’s a sad indictment of a crazy world that women, or anyone cannot travel safely.

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